Your company has had some bad press lately. The CEO’s been called to a congressional hearing. Perhaps a recall or disappointing results led to a drop in stock price. Or maybe a respected leader (and many others) left the company. Or a bad leader stayed too long. Whatever the reason, your employees aren’t happy. Many organizations just buckle down and hope it passes. Sometimes they try and address the cause, but fail to do much else. Results are hit or miss. Others don’t know what to do.
When this happens, the company should care enough to take intentional, strategic action because here’s what’s really going on: for starters, that thing and the employees’ feelings about it are occupying mental space. It’s distracting from their focus on work, impacting productivity, straining relationships, and ultimately hurting business results. By now, you’ve also got a lot of negative mojo out there and it’s spreading through news, rumor, and gossip. That continually depletes the emotional bank accounts Stephen Covey wrote about in the Seven Habits of Highly Effective People. Tapping people’s reserves means they are losing their resilience—that is, their ability to bounce back and recover quickly. Even worse, for some people (and depending on the severity of the situation), the company has broken a psychological contract. The “this isn’t what I signed up for” violated your employees’ expectations of their job and that needs to be renewed or renegotiated. With no improvement in sight, they will otherwise get frustrated and leave.
Simply addressing the cause of the strife is not enough because of these reverberating effects. You can’t wait, and it won’t pass. The longer-term consequence of this climate will influence people’s behaviors. Patterns of behaviors and their associated interactions will impact culture overall. Before you know it, the company evolves to an undesirable version of itself.
You can do something about it. Design of Work Experience (DOWE)“partners employees with their employers to co-create customized and meaningful work experiences that set the conditions for people and business to thrive.” As a methodology to create, affect, and sustain culture, DOWE:
The running theme throughout DOWE is engagement. Especially in difficult times, a company must involve their employees more deeply and work to bring the company even closer. Building walls, practicing avoidance, or denying the reality of the situation only serves to worsen the damage done. With DOWE, you are course-correcting and creating circumstances for different outcomes in the future. This gives life to people, not drains it.
Look for the upcoming book, Culture Your Culture: Innovating Experiences @Work.
I’ve been beating the drum about the role of culture in mergers and acquisitions since graduate school, when I worked on a deep dive into the 2001 HP-Compaq deal and saw just how “largely incompatible” (my words) the two cultures were. Even then, 18 months after the closing, the culture clash was evident. All employees felt the impact regardless of their legacy employer. Three years later, the headline was, “Why Carly Fiorina’s Big Bet is Failing.” In 2016, it was “Worst Tech Mergers and Acquisitions: HP and Compaq.” One could argue some sort of vendetta keeps bringing this particular deal back into the dialogue. Another explanation is that the effect has been long lasting and there’s a lesson to be learned here. This particular merger failed for a number of reasons, but low and behold culture has been named as one of them (see examples here and here). This merger is one of many who experienced the culture clash. I would even go so far as to argue that all mergers go through it because every organization has its own unique people, context, and culture regardless of all the “synergies” between two parties. Bringing them together will never be a seamless fit, but intentionally managing it will make a difference. Here are a few things to consider when it comes to M&A and culture, and how Design of Work Experience (DOWE) can help you navigate through it all.
Make culture a part of due diligence. If every organization is different and a culture clash between two entities merging into one is inevitable, then doing this should be a given. Evaluating culture is just as important as looking through the books, IP, assets, business operations, etc. as part of due diligence. For each organization, determine where and to what degree these differences exist through DOWE’s Culture Study before the decision to merge or acquire. Are there cultural strengths to leverage on both sides? Does the buyer actually want to acquire the culture for sale? Are there red flags that could signal a deal breaker? This helps the two sides to go into their new world with eyes wide open.
Forge a new shared vision and culture. During the highest peaks of M&A activity, the focus isn’t typically on the aftermath—it’s all about getting the deal done from a legal and regulatory standpoint. This myopic view leaves organizations ill prepared for the fall-out, despite the fact that all employees care about is what happens to them afterwards. Instead of having two cultures forge a battle royale or see one culture cannibalize the other, partner with your employees using DOWE. You’ll be able to articulate a new vision and culture as well as design new employment experiences that reflect them. Create a new identity that employees from both sides are proud to join. Instead of a mass exodus of talent, you might just garner enough attention to attract new talent at a time when business performance is so critical.
Deploy Change Management early and continually. Use of full-on change management is shockingly low during business as usual, despite the need. After all, change is constant in business. Something as huge as a merger or acquisition makes disciplined, well strategized and executed change management an imperative. With the culture studies in hand, DOWE helps organizations determine the distance and the path from the current to the future state. This brings people along for the journey as engaged collaborators throughout the integration. Isn’t that preferred over force-feeding the new state with all the pain that comes with disengagement and attrition of your best talent?
Sustain Changes. If you’ve gone through all the trouble, then you’d want to make sure your changes stick for as long as you need them. The positive aspects of the new vision, culture, and experiences post-merger need to be the new norm. The way to do that is to continue managing change well past integration. The DOWE process creates the opportunity to ensure that enough is done to set the conditions, support them systematically, and measure progress.
So before you go into your next merger or acquisition, think about how you want history to remember it. Then consider how these steps might help you. Thanks for reading!
Organizations are seeing people speak up about workplace harassment with the rise of the #MeToo movement. Instead of fearing it as a potential crisis, see this for the new possibilities it brings. After all, it’s a good thing to expose what’s hidden beneath the surface and confront what’s eroding the culture, employee experiences, and ultimately the business. The hope is that with these wake up calls, organizations can work toward building more authenticity and congruity among espoused values, culture, and lived experience. Inevitably, the question arises: What do we do?!
We are living in what could be a watershed moment in history. It can’t be ignored because “business as usual” will no longer be tolerated as a society. Use this hot topic as an opportunity to reflect as an organization and facilitate productive dialogue that leads to positive actions. As I’ve said many times over, manage it or it will manage you.
Let HR do its job and conduct the investigations for any specific cases that emerge—thoroughly and with fairness. It’s not meant to be a public spectacle, nor should it be by any means clandestine. As appropriate, communicate that the investigation is happening (especially if there are rumors) and allow due process for those involved (known or unknown). Shut down gossip and conjecture by emphasizing expectations and requirements for respect. Bring in counseling if needed. The outcome of these investigations should reflect true accountability for everyone involved.
Whether there are issues or not, this is a chance for the organization to say, “we care.” Provide resources, develop skills for communication, set expectations, reaffirm values, elevate employees. There are so many ways for companies to be the best they can be. Your workers will reward you for it with their talents, engagement, and productivity.
This also presents an opportunity for an organizational health check up—especially when it comes to culture. Read on.
UNDERSTAND THE CURRENT CULTURE AND EXPLORE THE POSSIBILITIES
Do a deep dive—and I mean a real honest, hard look--into the current culture. The Design of Work Experience (DOWE) methodology begins with a culture study, one that identifies your greatest strengths and unmet needs, as well as the overt and not-so-obvious key influences on the current culture. Employee surveys and focus groups don’t cut it. Use DOWE as a tool to find your starting point with authentic interactions that encourage the organization to understand its truth and build psychological safety for employees. Determine what conditions are in place for harassment or other dysfunctions to exist and identify the strengths, capabilities, and behaviors that should render them obsolete.
CO-CREATE A NEW OR ENHANCED CULTURE AND DESIGN ALIGNED EMPLOYEE EXPERIENCES
Inevitably, the culture study will highlight opportunities that can be seized upon. The DOWE process guides the co-creation of a new (or improved) culture along with the design of employee experiences to reflect it. Pay special attention to the co-create part by engaging with your employees as partners in design. After all, they (from the entry level to the senior executives) will be the ones to live this work. Experiment with new ideas and encourage innovation customized to your company’s unique context. Added bonus: capabilities are developed and utilized as the organization learns through the initiative.
MANAGE AND SUSTAIN CHANGE
Once there are strategies and designs, follow through with the change management needed to realize and sustain the future state. Plan, manage, measure, and follow up. Change has to be as successful as possible in order to make all that preceding work worth the investment. It can’t be wasted. We know from research that change doesn’t have to be perfect. However, the better it is, the greater the ROI. Change is never easy, but decades of research taught us a lot about what factors and practices work and don’t work.
TAKE THE FIRST STEP
You now have at least a general idea of what to do. Engage with your employees. And I’m here if you have any questions. Thanks for reading!
As I write this, the school year is starting up again. With it comes a sense of getting back to business—not only with families, but for the workplace as well. People are returning from vacations, and there’s a collective push to get things done before the end of the calendar year. Now’s a good time to know where you are and where you’re going with Design of Work Experience’s (DOWE’s) Culture Study. A Culture Study goes far beyond what you think you know and examines the complexity of your organization. It’s a deep-dive into your unique culture, a collaboration to explore talent and the context in which they are working. The co-creation process captures the current state from different angles, creating a holistic view that connects what happens at the individual, team, and organization levels. This is the first step to becoming a learning organization that purposefully manages its culture.
Back to school is a good time for a Culture Study. A poll from Workplace Options and Public Policy in 2012 reported increased stress during this time of year, affecting workplace “productivity and personal work-life balance”. What better time to engage people, let them know how important they are to the business, and demonstrate your efforts toward helping them succeed?
If you know your customers better than your own employees, it’s time to start investing in them. Or if you have big decisions that will affect people, know what’s really going on first. Mistakes in talent management have repercussions. Have the guts to gather information, build organizational self-awareness, and confront what’s great and not-so-great about your company. A Culture Study synthesizes data into actions with impact.
“We’re too busy” is a poor excuse. DOWE’s Culture Study can fold into work-in-progress, integrating into what’s happening through the normal course of business. After all, the goal of this phase in DOWE is to establish where you are today. The work of the Culture Study could also replace things that have become less effective through the course of routine—for example, regularly scheduled team meetings, town halls, poorly attended lunch and learns, trainings that have little impact. These are opportunities to reallocate time and resources.
There’s an alternative. Many organizations do in fact delay culture work in the face of other business priorities, but what they are choosing in its stead is the risk of organizational entropy (what isn’t maintained, deteriorates). “A watched pot never boils,” as they say, but we never hear about the stove starting a house fire until it’s too late. Try repairing your employer brand and reputation afterwards and you’ll realize that a little more up front can go a long way.
Not ready for the enterprise-wide initiative? Start with individual teams or departments and understand their sub-culture first. Wherever you are, whatever you’re doing, there’s an entry point to managing culture.
What to Expect
Every Culture Study unfolds differently, but anticipate that after kickoff, the first step is user research (or rather, employee research). This yields a treasure trove of data from which insights (key learning points) are derived. The depth of understanding acquired through this work informs the development of criteria, which in turn is used for decision making when it comes to talent and culture. Should the organization seek to continue in the DOWE process beyond the Culture Study, the whole of the organization has the opportunity to participate in co-designing the future direction of their culture and the employee experiences that go with it. From there, it’s a change management effort to bring the organization forward in the journey and sustain results.
Your company’s organizational health determines not only how people feel about their workplace, but also affects how well your business goals will be achieved. What you get in practicing DOWE is a more connected, engaged, and capable workplace where the conditions are set for both business and people to thrive. To learn more about DOWE framework, click here.
Attended a talk on neuroscience last night given by Dr. Thomas Lewis of UCSF. Biggest takeaway is this: Relationships are a physical, living, biological process between people all the time, every day. It’s like owning a plant. If you water it only once a month, it will die.
There you have it. This people and relationship stuff is neither intangible nor soft as they are often mistaken to be. There is, in fact, scientific evidence that has measured the impact of social interaction on overall well being. For those that need more proof, a meta study (looking at results across many studies) shows how isolation, the opposite of social interactions and connections, has devastating effects.
Now let's think about this from the work perspective. According to Dr. Lewis, social interaction is one of four ways people connect with others. Given the amount of time we spend at the office, it is a critical opportunity to maximize and harness the benefits of interaction not only because it is good for all of us, but also good for business. DOWE helps organizations to learn how to do this for themselves.
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